Wednesday, October 31, 2012


John Piper post:  After Darkness ... Light  (Video from Geneva)

Dear Friends,
Today is Reformation Day. Martin Luther posted his explosive 95 theses October 31, 1517. In the wake of Luther’s life, an army of Reformers soon emerged. Foremost among them was John Calvin. Together they recovered for the church the supreme authority and clarity of the Scriptures. Grace-erasing tradition had buried the glory of the gospel. But now light was breaking out. So the Reformers took up a Latin phrase to describe the wonder: “Post Tenebras Lux”—“After Darkness... Light.”
In honor of Calvin’s ministry and, even more, in celebration of the God who restored the gospel to his church, we are making this video available today. My prayer is that it would stir in your heart a fresh passion for the majesty of the word of God.
In spite of his flaws, the essential meaning of Calvin's life and preaching is that he recovered and embodied a passion for the majesty of God and his word. The labor of exposition through preaching was the supreme work of his life.
I am no John Calvin. But I do stand with him as a fellow preacher of the majesty of God’s word. Preaching has been the central labor of my life. I pray that God will give me a mind and voice that enables me to preach this word as long as I live. What a gift and privilege that would be.

Transition from Bethlehem

As I prepare to transition from my role at Bethlehem, it seems to me that the Lord is saying, “You have led Bethlehem to this point; it is time to hand off the internal leadership labors to another; I have a few other things yet for you to do.” Yes. Writing, preaching, teaching. There is an increasing pull on my life to be involved in ministry in the wider church through Desiring God. The plan is for these next years of my life, as God gives me strength, to be devoted to that mission. I just read the story of Elisha asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. I paused to pray, Lord, could I have a double portion of your Spirit for the last chapter of my life?

Prayer for Desiring God

Along with my transition, these next two months of November and December are important for ministries like ours. We will provide more communication in the coming weeks, but for now, we would be greatly honored if you would pray about how you might be involved in supporting our mission as this year comes to a close. We give most of what we have away freely. This is possible because lots of thankful people help us make that happen.
For Christ and his kingdom,
John Piper
with Josh Etter, Director of Communications


Ed Stetzer post:  Finish the Mission: Sent as Ambassadors (part two)

This is part two of my contribution to the new book from David Mathis and John Piper: Finish the MissionYou can read part one here.

We do not want to miss the scriptural theme of sent-ness because it defines so much of who God is, what he is doing, and who we are. For example:
A. The Father sent the Son. In John 20:21 the Father sent the Son. "As the Father has sent me, so send I you."
B. The Father sent the Spirit (in Jesus' name). The Father sends the Spirit in Jesus' name. In John 14:26, Jesus says, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit --the Father will send Him in My name --will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you." So the Father sent the Son, and the Father sends the Spirit in Jesus' name.
C. Jesus is sent to establish his kingdom--the movement of being sent continues. The Son comes and establishes his kingdom. In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!" Jesus is not speaking chronologically, describing the time in space when the kingdom will be ultimately established. Jesus is speaking geographically, describing the location of the kingdom. It is as if Jesus is saying, "Here it is!" The kingdom has come because the Son has come. The sending of the Trinity gives birth to a movement among his people.
D. The church is sent in the kingdom's wake (the sent-ness of the bride) continuing the trajectory of the recurring theme of this sent-ness. The church is birthed out of a movement (kingdom) of people empowered by the Spirit.
1. The Son builds the church by placing people in his kingdom. Jesus is building his church. He said he would build his church in Matthew 16, but in Colossians he tells us how. In Colossians 1:13 the Spirit testifies, "He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves." God is rescuing us, his people. Why? Because God is sending the church as agents of God's kingdom in the world.
2. The Spirit empowers the church. The Spirit empowers the church to imitate God's sent-ness. As the Son builds the church by placing people in the kingdom, the Spirit empowers the church to live as the sent agents of the kingdom of God. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf, 'Be reconciled to God.'" The church is a network of ambassadors for Christ.
In Ephesians 6:20 Paul says, "For this I am an ambassador in chains." Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, "Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ certain that God is appealing through us we plead on Christ's behalf be reconciled to God."
The church is an outpost of light in the darkness. In the military, an outpost is a group of soldiers stationed away from the main force. The outpost isn't the main force, but it represents the main force. As an outpost, the church isn't the main force, but it represents the main force. The church is in the world like an embassy is in the country in which its ambassador is stationed. The church is an initial point of contact for the kingdom of God, as God's people are interspersed amidst humanity.
We do not plead with others from long distance; we plead with them up close and personal. We are sent people, meeting others in their home countries. We must build relationships with them, both inside and outside the embassy. We are not sent in power. We are sent to serve and build relationships with others to share the truths of the gospel with them. This is the nature of God's kingdom. As Jesus forms a community of the kingdom with the good news of the kingdom, the people he has purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28, Tit. 2:14) unify to accomplish God's purposes.
I grew up on Long Island outside of New York City. We knew ambassadors. They were the people with the cool cars that had flags and didn't pay parking tickets. But in Paul's day, "ambassadors" had a different social status than what I encountered in New York.
Ambassadors are high-ranking diplomatic officials. They are an indication that one political power sought a good working relationship with a second one. Ambassadors are sent for the purpose of establishing friendship, good will, and relationships for working together.
Yet, in the days of the New Testament, Rome did not send out ambassadors. They did not have to. Rome sent out conquering armies with governors who ruled over the conquered nation. That's how Rome established its authority with neighboring nations.
They would receive them from as far away as India, and the Roman emperor bragged that ambassadors would come to Rome and entreat the emperor to have mercy. They'd say, "Please don't conquer us. Don't send one of those conquering armies and a ruling governor, but instead let us be an ally, a vassal state on the border, on the edge of the empire. Let us live."
Rather than sending out ambassadors, the Roman Empire sent out armies and then governors to rule the conquered. So, nations near the edges of the empire would send ambassadors to negotiate for peace or perhaps for status as a vassal state. The strong did not send out ambassadors. The weak did.
The all-powerful Roman Empire wouldn't send out ambassadors to those that didn't matter; but the all-powerful, loving, good, sovereign, perfect, and merciful God says that we're ambassadors for Christ, the king of a far greater kingdom. So this glorious, all-powerful God sends ambassadors on his behalf. It is a glorious scandal that confounds the wisdom of this world.
Clarifying Missional
Francis DuBose was the first person to write a book using the term missional the way many use it today. In his book God Who Sends, DuBose simply walks through the Scriptures, identifying places where God demonstrates his sent-ness. As you begin to examine the Scriptures, understanding the heart and the mission of God, you begin to see with fresh eyes that we are a people that are made new in Christ to live as agents of his mission. This shapes us. This causes us to live sent. That's what missional is. If you're a missionary to the Pokot in Africa, you're sent. And, if you're living as a Christian in Pittsburgh, you're sent. We're all sent. The question is, where and among whom?
Michael Oh expressed it well when he described the mission as from everywhere to everywhere. The reality is that all of God's people are redeemed by the power of Christ, made new in relationship with him, and are now called to live sent. All of the talk about God's greatness, if we fail to understand that his greatness is intended to compel us toward mission, is descriptive but morally vacuous. "As the Father has sent me," Jesus said, "so send I you."
For some of you this terminology will be new. Don't spend too much time worrying about using trendy words. As I wrote in MissionSHIFT, "The making of definitions is in the nature of thinking. The describing of effective actions is in the nature of doing." The reality is that when all is said and done, too much will have been said and not enough will have been done. So, don't trip over the terms. Rather, spend time living intentionally. Marvel that you've encountered a good, perfect, holy, loving and merciful God, and are in turn accountable to Jesus' command, "As the Father has sent me so send I you."
You're not all that God has called you to be, as a follower of Jesus, if you're missions-minded but not engaged in God's mission here and now. One of the temptations might be that you leave this information on your desk and say, "What we need to do is to give more and to go more." I know a lot of churches that are very missions-minded but are not particularly missional. In other words, they want to pay somebody else and outsource the mission of God. You should give and go more. We all should. But we also need to live as those who are sent here and now. At the end of the day, every believer has to listen to the words of Jesus, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you." The only rightful, appropriate response is "Here I am, Lord; send me."

Perspective and Opportunity

Seth Godin post:  Getting over ourselves

In the face of billions of dollars of destruction, of the loss of life, of families distrupted, it's easy to wonder what we were so hung up on just a few days ago. Many just went face to face with an epic natural disaster, and millions are still recovering. Writer's block or a delayed shipment or an unreturned phone call seem sort of trivial now.

We're good at creating drama, at avoiding emotional labor and most of all, at thinking small. Maybe we don't need another meeting, a longer coffee break or another hour whittling away at our stuckness.

There's never been a better opportunity to step up and make an impact, while we've got the chance. This generation, this decade, right now, there are more opportunities to connect and do art than ever before. Maybe even today.

It's pretty easy to decide to roll with the punches, to look at the enormity of natural disaster and choose to hunker down and do less. It's more important than ever, I think, to persist and make a dent in the universe instead.

We've all been offered access to so many tools, so many valuable connections, so many committed people. What an opportunity.

October 31 Holidays

Joe Carter post:  9 Things You Should Know about Halloween and Reformation Day

Halloween and Reformation Day, a secular and a religious holiday, exist uncomfortably side-by-side on the calendar. Here are 9 things you should know about the October 31 holidays.
1. The word Halloween was first used in the 16th century and represents a Scottish variant of the fuller All Hallows' Even ('evening'), the night before All Hallows' Day.
2. Reformation Day celebrates Martin Luther's nailing his ninety-five theses to the church door Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517.
3. The Puritans maintained strong opposition to Halloween and it was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration during the 19th century that it was brought to North America. (s)
4. While the historical date for the observance of Reformation is October 31st, most churches celebrate it on the last Sunday in October.
5. Taking from Irish and English traditions, Americans in the mid-1800's began to dress up in costumes and go house to house asking for food or money, a practice that eventually became today's "trick-or-treat" tradition. (s)
6. Luther was not yet a "Protestant" when he posted the ninety-five theses. The theses were not particularly radical, and key Lutheran doctrines, such as justification by grace through faith alone, were not included. (s)
7. There has never been a single case of any child being killed by a stranger's Halloween candy. (s)
8. The only country in which Reformation Day is a national holiday is Chile. (Though it is called Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes --- National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches.) (s)
9. Risqué costumes were not pervasive in America until right around Gerald Ford's presidency, when homosexual communities in the United States adopted Halloween as an occasion for revealing, over-the-top attire. (s)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

God Alone Is Wise

Justin Taylor post:  4 Lessons from God’s Interrogation of Job

1. God is too small in Job’s eyes.
Prior to God’s interrogation of Job, Job’s perception of God is too soft, too tame, too domesticated. But God’s questions underscore his unshakable trustworthiness as uniquely and infinitely wise, sovereign, just, and good. God is not someone whom Job can drag into court so that he and God can argue their case before an impartial judge. The Almighty God is without peer. He himself is the judge, jury, executioner, and standard of justice.
2. Correspondingly, Job is too large in his own eyes.
God gives Job a theocentric view of the universe because Job cannot help viewing God’s world with himself at its center. Job actually discredits God’s justice at the expense of his own innocence. So an effect of God’s piercing questions is that Job repents by humbling himself before God as insignificant,
ceasing to question God’s ways with him, and submitting to God’s unthwartable sovereignty (40:4-5; 42:1-6). Job does not claim to understand why he is suffering, nor does he insist on his right to know why. Instead, he repents. But he does not repent of sins that he committed prior to his innocent suffering. Rather, he repents of his conceited perspective about God’s justice that he expressed in the midst of his suffering. Job’s maturity grows as he himself becomes smaller.
3. God is not obligated to give Job anything, not even answers to his questions.
So he changes the subject. He does not answer the main question that Job repeatedly asks: “Why am I suffering?” The closest God comes to answering it is rebuking Job for defending his own righteousness at
the expense of God’s righteousness (40:8). God does not answer Job’s “Why?” question because Job’s question, though sincere, is misguided. The narrator and reader know that God challenges Satan about Job’s integrity and gives Satan permission to make Job suffer, but Job never learns this. The point for Job—and the point that the narrator is making for the reader—is that God is not obligated to answer Job’s question. The reason is simple: God is infinite, and Job is finite. God himself is the answer. God as the Creator of the universe owns everything and owes nothing to anyone; a finite person cannot understand the inscrutable ways of the infinite God. . . .
4. Only God is all-wise.
By asking two series of imposing questions, God answers the question “Who is wise?” The answer is that God alone is wise. So rather than accusing God and doubting his integrity, the right response for Job is to trust God, who is supremely wise, sovereign, just, and good. God demonstrates that he sovereignly controls his universe and that he is not unjust and capriciously cruel. To the contrary, τὸ τέλος
κυριόυ [the purpose/goal/end of the Lord] with Job is to show “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:11).

Monday, October 29, 2012

Follows Does Not Lead

Tullian Tchividjian post:  Politics Is Not A Cure-All

When it comes to engaging and influencing culture too many Christians think too highly of political activism. As Vern Poythress has pointed out, the political arena is not the most strategic arena for cultural influence:
Bible-believing Christians have not achieved much in politics because they have not devoted themselves to the larger arena of cultural conflict. Politics mostly follows culture rather than leading it. A temporary victory in the voting booth does not reverse a downward moral trend driven by cultural gatekeepers in news media, entertainment, art, and education. Politics is not a cure-all.
After decades of political activism on the part of Evangelical Christians (so much so that the average person in our country now thinks Evangelicalism is primarily a social and moral movement with no connection to the Evangel–good news) we’re beginning to understand that the dynamics and complexities of cultural change differ radically from political mobilization. Even political insiders recognize that years of political effort on behalf of Evangelical Christians have generated little cultural gain. In an article entitled “Religious Right, R.I.P.,” columnist Cal Thomas, himself an Evangelical Christian, wrote, “Thirty years of trying to use government to stop abortion, preserve opposite-sex marriage, improve television and movie content and transform culture into the conservative Evangelical image has failed.” American culture continues its steep moral and cultural decline into hedonism and materialism. Why? As Richard John Neuhaus once observed, “Christianity in America is not challenging the ‘habits of the heart’ and ‘habits of the mind’ that dominate American culture.”
Virtually every social scientist that I’ve ever talked to agrees that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics). It’s important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture—the habits of heart and mind—that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, “Let me write the songs of a nation; I don’t care who writes its laws.”
One poignant example of this fact is that Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears, Oprah Winfrey, Shakira, Kim Kardashian, and Nicki Minaj combine for just over 200,000,000 twitter followers compared to Barack Obama’s and Mitt Romney’s combined 23,000,000. Haha! Funny…not really. Interesting and telling, though.
So, as important as this political season is, and as important as it is to be interested and involved as a citizen of this country, let’s keep some perspective. “Politics is not a cure all.”


David T. Koyzis post:  Tracing the Logic of Liberalism

In the American context the labels liberal and conservative are used in an ahistorical way---more as terms of opprobrium than as accurate designations for what people actually believe about political life. Liberals and conservatives alike differ less on fundamental principles than on who can better claim custody over the same principles---the principles of, well, liberalism.

The liberalism of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Of Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill. After all, the Declaration of Independence is a liberal document, unquestioningly accepting that popular consent stands at the origin of political authority. As Alasdair MacIntyre has put it, in the Western world there are conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals, but all adhere to the basic principles of liberalism.
So what accounts for the differences between Democrats and Republicans, between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney? What separates them is that each represents a different stage in the larger development of liberalism. Those who do not like what liberalism has become in recent decades have not repudiated it as such but have tried instead to hold onto it and return it to an earlier form---one thought to be purer and closer to its original meaning. I believe liberalism can be traced through five stages of development.
1. The Hobbesian commonwealth
The English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes set forth an alternative story to the biblical redemptive narrative of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. For Hobbes, history consisted of a grand movement away from a chaotic state of nature and toward a civil order presided over by a sovereign capable of keeping the peace. The key to this change was a contract among individuals motivated by fear of a violent death to seek a more peaceful state. Only an all-powerful sovereign could put an end to the war of all against all and bring about more agreeable conditions. Hobbes's sovereign could do no wrong legally and morally speaking, because he was the source of law. But there were real practical limitations on his power, for if he pushed his subjects too far they might decide to take their chances with the state of nature once again and try to unseat him.
2. The night watchman state
This second stage in liberalism's development is most associated with John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson. The narrative structure is still the same. According to Locke, the state of nature produces certain inconveniences that can be remedied only by individuals entering into a contract to establish a civil government. If the Hobbesian sovereign is established to protect life, the Lockean government is set up to defend life, liberty, and property---or, as Jefferson put it, the pursuit of happiness. Government remains small and allows sovereign individuals to pursue their own respective goods as they understand them. With respect to economic life, government limits itself to setting and enforcing the rules of the game, allowing the players to seek their own advantage. The net result will be a spontaneous order emerging, almost providentially, out of all this self-seeking.
3. The regulatory state
In reality, of course, self-seeking, while undoubtedly producing certain material benefits, did indeed lead to abuses, such as those engendered by the early factory system: excessively long work days and weeks, dangerous working conditions, and low wages due to a surplus of potential laborers in the marketplace. In its third stage, liberals call on government to rectify these abuses. Theodore Roosevelt is a paradigmatic figure, in so far as he brought the power of government to bear in checking an "industrial baronage" represented by the large corporate concerns. The U.S. Congress passed the Sherman and Clayton Antitrust Acts in 1890 and 1914 respectively as means of restoring competition to a marketplace now dominated by monopolies. The breakups of Standard Oil in 1911 and of AT&T in 1984 were motivated by this concern.
4. The equal-opportunity state
Each of the previous stages sees the proponents of liberalism undertaking to expand individual freedom---first from fear of death, second from threats to property, and third from economic monopolies. The shift from stage 2 to stage 3 sees a necessary expansion of the apparatus of government. However, many liberals regard this as insufficient. In particular, if the quest for economic advantage is likened to a game, and if government sets the rules of the game, contestants inevitably have an uneven start. Unlike Parker Brothers's famous Monopoly game, in which every player begins with $1,500, real life sees people entering the marketplace with greater or fewer advantages than others. The effect of the Great Depression of the 1930s accentuated the feeling of many liberals that a small night watchman state and even a regulatory state are not enough "to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness," as Franklin Roosevelt expressed it in 1944. This, of course, necessitated another expansion in the apparatus of government, leading to what we now know as the welfare state.
5. The choice-enhancement state
The welfare state received another boost in the 1960s with President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." Now the focus shifted yet again to enabling citizens to expand their range of choices, the ordinary constraints that life imposes on one's options now being deemed oppressive. To be sure, there were positive advances for society as a whole in that era, as African Americans, women, and other minorities were incorporated more fully into the body politic and into social and economic life as a whole. Nevertheless, the legitimate liberation of people from past wrongs quickly became a general quest to emancipate everyone from a variety of norms and standards impinging on their own wills. This had immediate effect on sexual mores. Norms inhibiting consensual sexual behavior were discarded, with the state increasingly refraining from judging among a variety of sexual relationships. As Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau famously put it, "the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation."
Paradoxically, however, this changed attitude towards sexuality called for an even larger government apparatus. A government may refrain from judging the choices individuals make, but it cannot decree that these choices will have no negative consequences. With a rising divorce rate and the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, government is increasingly called upon to step in to neutralize their negative effects on the population. Fifth-stage liberals typically call on political authorities to cushion the effect of a wide variety of personal choices whose consequences would otherwise be destructive. If divorce exacerbates poverty, government is expected, not to make divorce more difficult since that would limit the right to choose, but to commit more funding to the broken families themselves.

Is Liberalism Circular?

Are there only five stages in liberalism's development? What lies beyond the fifth stage? We cannot say for certain, of course, but there is much to suggest that we may end up doubling back to the first stage. In short, the development of liberalism may prove to be circular. How so? The most famous sentence in the United States Supreme Court's notorious decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) holds the key:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
This is heady stuff. Just imagine: defining my own concept of the universe and of existence itself. I didn't know I got to do that. Now imagine everyone doing the same thing and you get a pretty grim picture of what could be in store for us. Hobbes had his own expression for it: bellum omnium contra omnes---"the war of all against all." For which, once again, he prescribed the Leviathan, a sovereign ruler knowing no legal or ethical bounds, only practical ones. Is this where we are heading? Are we destined to repeat the whole process again?

The Alternative to Liberalism

We should be aware that all of these stages follow the basic redemptive narrative conditioning the liberal worldview: the pre-political state of nature, wracked with the attendant dangers to life and liberty, followed by the establishment of a civil commonwealth to escape these dangers, by terms of a contract whose parameters are set by its parties. If the commonwealth and the magistrate set over it fail to live up to its terms, the parties to the contract are justified in reclaiming the freedom they sought to protect in the first place. (Notice that circular pattern again.) If government is deemed an obstacle to this freedom, they will then try to keep it as small as possible. If, on the other hand, government can be enlisted to expand this freedom, then so be it. This is how both opponents and proponents of "big government," who seem so diametrically at odds with each other in political debates, can fit under the larger liberal umbrella.
What is the alternative to this overarching liberal framework? One that recognizes what I call the pluriformity of authorities in society. Human society is made up, not just of individuals and the state, but of a variety of authoritative agents, each of which has a unique task in God's world. The diversity of God's creation is not limited to the natural world but includes the rich array of human institutions, communities, associations, and relationships. This creation, in all its fulness, is caught up in the drama, not of a continual expansion of individual freedom and a liberation from perceived oppressions, but of redemption in Jesus Christ---a redemption he will bring to fruition in his own good time at his return.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

His Trustworthiness

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Peace in the No-Matter-What’s of Life

     You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. Isa. 26:3-4     Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7      Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Rom. 5:1      Dear heavenly Father, you haven’t promised us a storm-less, hassle-free, disappointment-empty life. You offer us no formulas for decreasing the probability of sad things happening around us or disillusioning things happening to us. But you have promised something that transcends the predictable unpredictability of life. You’ve promised to keep us in perfect peace, in the midst of whatever happens.
     So when we’re out of bootstraps to pull up, formulas that don’t work, and vain attempts at fixing the unfixable, you are there—with us and for us. Thank you for being a Father who will never forget or abandon your children—who will never forget or abandon me. Thank you that you don’t roll your eyes at us when we’re weak; you don’t shame us when we’re faltering; you don’t despise us when we doubt. Thank you for being the God who is working all things together after the counsel of your will—who is working in all things for the good of those who love you…
     Father, your promise is even greater; you’ve promised to keep us in perfect peace—a peace perfectly suited for the moment, madness, or whatever. Our calling is to mine the riches of the gospel and keep in mind the wonders of your love; for you are the Lord—the eternal Rock that is higher than us, the Rock of refuge, the Rock of ages. Our calling is to trust in the “it is done” of Jesus—to collapse of Christ even when we don’t have the energy to throw ourselves on him.
     Father, indeed, it’s freeing and comforting to know you’re not calling us to trust in our ability to trust, but to trust you—in your trustworthiness, not in ours. For a peace that passes, surpasses, and at times even bypasses all understanding, we give you praise. For your promise to keep us in peace, anchor us by hope, strengthen us in grace, we honor and worship you. How great are your mercies, how profound your kindnesses, how lavish your love. So very Amen we pray in the trustworthy name of Jesus—the Prince of Peace.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Student of Grace

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer for Learning in the Academy of Grace

     For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, teaching us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possessions who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14
     Dear Lord Jesus, if there’s one teacher I want to excel under and one curriculum I need to master—if there’s one school I want to do well in, it’s the academy of grace. In the past I’ve either taken education too seriously, turning grades into idols, or else I’ve applied myself just enough just to get by. Please help me to become a student of grace, to your glory and for my transformation.
     Your grace first appeared to me like a longed-for sunrise after a starless night of total darkness; like a water-truck driving up to a dehydrated man in the middle of a desert; like you coming into the spiritual morgue and raising me from the deadness of my sin and trespasses.
     Indeed, your grace came to me—quite literally, bringing salvation to me, for I could never find it on my own or earn it through my efforts; or even desire it, left to my own sin and foolishness. Salvation is of the Lord, from conception to inception to completion. Hallelujah, several times over!
     And this is the grace of the gospel, Lord Jesus: You gave yourself for us on the cross to redeem us from sin, to purify us for yourself, to make us eager to do good. Anything less is not the gospel. Anything more is not the gospel. Anything other is not the gospel.
     If I’m not being challenged and changed by the power of your grace, then how can I say I have ever been sought and saved by the riches of your grace? So as one under the pedagogy of your grace, Lord Jesus, help me learn to say an emphatic “No!” to everything that robs you of your glory and an enthusiastic “Yes!” to everything that promotes your honor and reveals your beauty.
     May my repentances be more notorious than my sins; may my joy in being justified be manifest in my zeal for being sanctified. May the blessed hope of your future return motivate me toward a greater obedience in the present moment.
     Lord Jesus, continue to teach me the difference between an uptight life of rigidity and an upright life of godliness. Give me a greater love for the beauty of holiness by grace and a gospel-driven eagerness for doing good. Continue to free me from my unrighteousness and my self-righteousness. So very Amen I pray, in your loving and holy name.

Hard Questions

Trevin Wax post:  10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate Is Never Asked by the Media

Debate moderators and reporters love to ask pro-life candidates hard questions about abortion. Curiously, they don’t do the same for pro-choice candidates.
Here are 10 questions you never hear a pro-choice candidate asked by the media:
1. You say you support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices in regards to abortion and contraception. Are there any restrictions you would approve of?
2. In 2010, The Economist featured a cover story on “the war on girls” and the growth of “gendercide” in the world – abortion based solely on the sex of the baby. Does this phenomenon pose a problem for you or do you believe in the absolute right of a woman to terminate a pregnancy because the unborn fetus is female?
3. In many states, a teenager can have an abortion without her parents’ consent or knowledge but cannot get an aspirin from the school nurse without parental authorization. Do you support any restrictions or parental notification regarding abortion access for minors?
4. If you do not believe that human life begins at conception, when do you believe it begins? At what stage of development should an unborn child have human rights?
5. Currently, when genetic testing reveals an unborn child has Down Syndrome, most women choose to abort. How do you answer the charge that this phenomenon resembles the “eugenics” movement a century ago – the slow, but deliberate “weeding out” of those our society would deem “unfit” to live?
6. Do you believe an employer should be forced to violate his or her religious conscience by providing access to abortifacient drugs and contraception to employees?
7. Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr. has said that “abortion is the white supremacist’s best friend,” pointing to the fact that Black and Latinos represent 25% of our population but account for 59% of all abortions. How do you respond to the charge that the majority of abortion clinics are found in inner-city areas with large numbers of minorities?
8. You describe abortion as a “tragic choice.” If abortion is not morally objectionable, then why is it tragic? Does this mean there is something about abortion that is different than other standard surgical procedures?
9. Do you believe abortion should be legal once the unborn fetus is viable – able to survive outside the womb?
10. If a pregnant woman and her unborn child are murdered, do you believe the criminal should face two counts of murder and serve a harsher sentence?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Worthy of Our Honor But Not Our Hope

Matt Smethurst post:  'The Best Sermon on Christianity and Politics'

The Story: While preaching his way through the Gospel of Mark, Mark Dever came to that section where Jesus is questioned about paying taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:13-17).
Despite standing in a pulpit five blocks from the Capitol, Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., doesn't often plunge into politics from the pulpit. He doesn't believe that to be his calling. The text that September 2010 morning, however, demanded reflection on how believers should think about and relate to the political realm.
Collin Hansen, who attended the service, later wrote that it was "the best sermon I know on Christianity and government." Likewise, Thabiti Anyabwile described it as "a biblical theology of Christians and the state, at once full of unction, intellectually challenging, and affecting the heart. I've heard a lot of Mark's preaching, but I don't know that I've ever heard him better."
Dever offered three simple points from Mark 12:13-17. First, Christians are good citizens. Second, no earthly kingdom can be identified with God's people. Third, Christians are finally accountable to God.
Why It Matters: With election day just around the corner, Dever's message bears fresh relevance. By listening to the sermon and reading Hansen's copious summary, you will be well served.
As Americans, it's often helpful to be reminded that the epicenter of Christ's kingdom is not located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And the purposes of God have never been thwarted at the hands of men---a streak that's not about to end on November 6. Such a recognition isn't quietism or escapism---just biblical Christianity.
President Obama and Governor Romney are, like you and me, feeble creatures of dust. They're worthy of our honor (Eccl. 10:201 Pet. 2:17), but never our hope.
So pay your taxes, choose your candidate, and cast your vote (politics does matter, after all), but do so as one whose trust is anchored in another world. As citizens of "a better country" (Heb. 11:16; cf. Phil. 3:20), we the people of the risen King await "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Pet. 3:13).
Whatever comes of our quadrennial sojourn to the ballot box, we can rest in the sovereign goodness of a Father who sits enthroned in the heavens and, with majesty and mystery, does whatever he pleases.
Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

Slave Becomes a Son

Tullian Tchividjian post (appearing at Huffington Post Blog):  You Believe in Karma

"Good people get good stuff. Bad people get bad stuff." Or as the Beatles sang with their last gasp on Abbey Road, "In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
Now I love John, Paul, George and Ringo, but I take issue with them here, and I know I am in the minority. After all, the world runs on retribution. "This for that" comes as naturally to us as breathing. Moralists interpret misfortune as the karmic result of misbehavior. This for that. "You failed to obey God, so He gave your child an illness." Such rule-based economies of punishment and reward may be the default mode of the fallen human heart, but that doesn't make them any less brutal!
This does not mean that sin doesn't have consequences. If you blow all of your money on booze, you will likely reap poverty, loneliness and cirrhosis of the liver. Simple cause and effect. But to conclude that suffering people have somehow heaped up trouble for themselves on the Cosmic Registry and that God is doling out the misery in direct proportion would be more than mistaken; it would be cruel. The humorist Jack Handey perceptively parodied such ideas in his Saturday Night Live-featured book "Deep Thoughts":
If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is "God is crying." And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is, "Probably because of something you did."

Hahaha ... not really.
The truth is that while we laugh at something as silly as Handey's "deep thought," most of us are naturally governed by this kind of thinking regarding God.
So, while no one can deny that our actions have consequences -- that if you put your finger in a light socket you will "reap" a shock -- we do God (and ourselves!) a great disservice when we project this schema onto Him. That is, when we moralize our suffering and that of others. The lab test results come back positive, and we interpret it as some sort of punishment. Or your loved ones interpret it that way. Your marriage falls apart, and you assume God is meting out His judgment on your indiscretions. Most of us -- not all, I'm afraid -- would stop short of blaming the citizens of New Orleans for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but that doesn't mean we don't moralize our suffering in other, more subtle ways.
The truth is that when you and I insist on that all-too-comfortable paradigm of cosmic score keeping, we're no longer talking about Christianity. In fact, what we reveal is that we've adopted (unwittingly) a Westernized form of Hinduism. We are talking, in other words, about karma. If you are a bad person and things are going well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and "you get yours." If you are good person, the inverse is true: just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you. This is a simplification of the complex Hindu understanding of history as determined by the past lives of others: that we are all stuck in an eternal cycle of suffering perpetuated by reincarnation.
Westerners are understandably reticent to embrace the notion that the universe is paying us back for a prior life of boozing, spousal abuse or tax evasion. We believe in the inherent goodness of human beings, after all! We prefer to keep the cycle within the confines of a single life. But the appeal of this perspective should be fairly obvious: no one gets away with anything. If someone harmed you, she will suffer. If you do good, you will have a good life. Karma puts us in control. The problem in this worldview comes, as it always does, when we flip it around. If you are suffering, you have done something to merit it. Pain is proof.
No doubt many of us would object to the accusation that we share or agree with such a mind-set. That's simplistic nonsense, we might think. No one with any education or experience would ever hold to such a juvenile relational bartering system. But hold on for a moment. Think about the last fight you had with your significant other -- was there an element of deserving tucked into the conflict? "You hurt me, so now I'll hurt you"? I can't tell you how much self-abuse I've come across in my years of ministry that had some element of inward-directed retribution at its core: the teenage girl who punishes herself by cutting her arms; or men who sleep around to prove that they deserve the contempt of their wives. If we cling to quid pro quo when dealing with others and ourselves, why wouldn't we project it onto God (or the universe)? We are all helpless moralizers, especially when it comes to suffering.
On the opposite end of our natural tendency to moralize life and suffering stands the counter-intuitive affirmation of Christianity. Christianity affirms that Jesus severed the link between suffering and deserving once for all on the cross. God put the ledgers away and settled the accounts. The good news of the Gospel is NOT that good people get good stuff. It's not that life is cyclical and that "what comes around goes around." Rather, it's that the bad get the best, the worst inherit the wealth and the slave becomes a son (Romans 5:8).

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tendency to Being a Customer

Excerpt from Ed Stetzer post:  Laypeople and the Mission of God: Part III - Customers to Owners


So, I'd encourage you to consider five truths about the tendency to being a customer of the church.
First, people naturally want to be objects of the ministry, not partners in it. That's why the Bible says, "consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works" (Hebrews 10:24, KJV).
Second, people want to see others serving while they are the one being served. That's why the Bible says, "Based on the gift EACH ONE has received, use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God" (1 Peter 4:10, HCSB).
Third, if you are a pastor, one of your most important roles is to equip people for ministry. That's why the Bible says that God gave leaders "for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12, HCSB).
Fourth, it is not natural to be a giver. It is natural to be a receiver. That is what we desire, but that selfishness is what the Bible speaks against. That's why the Bible reminds us that it is "more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
Fifth, when only pastors do for people what God has called all His people to do, everyone gets hurt and the mission of God is hindered. God has given gifts to his people for the good of all. That's why the Bible says, "a demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial" (1 Corinthians 12:7).
When God's people think less like customers of the ministry and, instead, see themselves as the owners of the ministry, it's a whole different kind of church.

Hope on Nothing More, Nothing Less, Nothing Other

Scotty Smith:  A Prayer in Praise of the God Who Is Completely Sanctifying Us

     Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thess. 5:23
     Dear heavenly Father, the promises contained in this one verse deepen our peace, fuel our joy and anchor our hope… tremendously! It’s assuring to know that you’re tenaciously and tirelessly at work in changing us—in making us like Jesus. You will bring to completion the good work you began in each of your children. It was your work to begin and only you can finish it.
     We’d despair if this wasn’t the case, for the disparity between Jesus’ beauty and our brokenness is overwhelming to us at times. The thoughts we think, the things we feel, the choices we make are so unlike Jesus. We could never be our own savior, though foolishly, we’ve tried. Only a great Savior like Jesus is sufficient for people like us.
     As the God of peace, you’re making us wholly holy—transforming us through and through. You are freeing every part of our being—spirit, soul, and body—from the effects and affects of sin; and you’re neither in a hurry nor anxious about the process. You’re at peace, even when we’re not. You don’t roll your eyes, furrow your brow, clear your throat, or show any signs of a nervous twitch when you think about us. You are perpetually at rest in your love towards us in Jesus (Zeph. 3:14-17). We believe, help our unbelief…
     We will be wholly blameless and shameless at the second coming, only because Jesus took our blame upon the cross, despising its shame. Even now, our lives are hidden safely in him, and when he returns, we’ll appear with him in glory, for Jesus is our life—our righteousness, holiness, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:31Col. 3:4). Our hope is built on nothing less, nothing more, and nothing other than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We praise you for the gospel—its truth, its power and its great freedom!
     So, Father, as this day begins (and continues) we will actively trust in the righteousness that is ours by faith; even as we surrender to the ministry of the Spirit—by whom we’ve been sealed, with whom we’re indwelt, and through whom we’ll be safely delivered into your presence. Oh, great and glorious peace! So very Amen we pray, with comfort and joy, in Jesus’ faithful name.